How is COVID-19 Impacting You?
It’s been nearly two months since the first coronavirus case was reported in Iowa. It’s changed a lot about the way we live. I want to hear from you on how your family, business, and lives have been impacted so I can learn more about what I can do to help. I hope you can fill out this brief survey that will take less than two minutes of your time. Take the survey here.
Again, I encourage you to reach out with any questions or suggestions on what we need to do to keep Iowans safe, as well as plans to provide help and recovery to move forward during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Take Precautions as Iowa Begins to Re-open
As we start to see parts of the state open up, it’s important to remember to continue to practice social distancing and stay home as much as possible. If you go out, try to avoid close contact with others especially those that are sick. Put distance between yourself and others as much as possible, remember that some people without symptoms may be able to spread the virus.
In light of new data about how COVID-19 spreads, the CDC recommends that people wear a cloth face covering to cover their nose and mouth in the community settings. This is to protect people around you if you are infected but do not have symptoms. Limiting contact with others is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones.
Restaurants in 77 counties can reopen to in-person dining. Restaurants must follow these guidelines for in-person dining:
- The restaurant must limit the number of customers present at indoor or outdoor spaces to 50% of its normal operating capacity to ensure adequate spacing of groups
- Groups are limited to no more than 6 people
- Distance of 6 feet must be maintained between separate groups
- No self-service of food or drink allowed
The Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals has additional recommendations for restaurants. They can be found here, https://dia.iowa.gov/document/iowa-restaurant-reopening-criteriaoperation-restrictions-during-covid-19
The following counties still remain closed until May 15: Allamakee, Benton, Black Hawk, Bremer, Dallas, Des Moines, Dubuque, Fayette, Henry, Iowa, Jasper, Johnson, Linn, Louisa, Marshall, Muscatine, Polk, Poweshiek, Scott, Tama, Washington, and Woodbury.
Agriculture Hit Hard by COVID-19, Resources Available
After enduring the President’s trade wars over the last two years, farmers now face the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis. In response, state and federal officials have taken actions to help the agricultural industry.
- Beginning Monday, April 27, farmers will be eligible to apply for up to $10,000 through the Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL). Apply here: sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options
- The governor extended the increased trucking weight limits to 90,000 for medical and agricultural items until at least May 27.
- Farmers markets will also now be open, allowing farm products and food only.
The President has invoked the Defense Production Act, seeking to ensure plants remain open and workers report for their shifts amid the outbreak. OHSA issued packing plant specific guidance at the end of April, following extensive outbreaks.
Packing plants have been the source of the biggest outbreaks in the state. Outbreaks at plants in Columbus Junction, Waterloo, Marshalltown, Tama, Perry, and Sioux City have led to thousands of infections and the temporary closure of several facilities.
The temporary closure of these plants has led to a crisis among producers. Iowa is the nation’s leading pork producer, with roughly 25 million hogs in confinements across the state. Extended closures may force farmers to euthanize animals.
Help and Guidance for Iowa Producers
IOWA GUIDANCE: Guidance for Iowa producers can be found at https://iowaagriculture.gov/covid-19; including information on supply chain issues, guidance from the CDC, federal information and information on actions taken by the state.
FEDERAL GUIDANCE: The U.S. Department of Agriculture has assistance available for rural residents, businesses and communities affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Their resource guide of federal programs will help rural leaders — whether they are in agriculture, education, health care or any other field — find support for recovery efforts through technical, training and management assistance, financial assistance, partnership opportunities and more. Find additional help at usda.gov/coronavirus.
MENTAL HEALTH: During this difficult time, don’t sacrifice your well-being to stress and uncertainty. Iowa State University Extension provides confidential access to stress counselors and other resources, 24/7 at no charge. Call 800-447-1985, or go to extension.iastate.edu/iowaconcern to live chat one-on-one in a secure environment.
Tuition Freeze at State Universities
The Iowa Board of Regents that represents Iowa’s public universities met virtually on May 4th to consider a proposal to not increase tuition for the upcoming Fall semester. The tuition freeze is on the table even though there is an estimated loss in revenue combined at the Regent institutions of nearly $200 million.
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, fewer students are expected to enroll at the universities in the fall, particularly international students. There is also financial uncertainty because the Legislature is suspended and has not set the state budget for next year. The Regents indicated that they could increase tuition in the Spring.
Federal funds have been made available to Iowa Regent institutions. Under the CARES Act the University of Iowa would receive $16.2 million, $21.7 million to Iowa State University, and $10.9 million to the University of Northern Iowa. Approximately half of those funds need to go to emergency financial aid grants to students.
Student Financial Aid Help
Students will now be able to defer payments and waive interest on federally held student loans until September 30. Also, the collection of defaulted student loans has been suspended. Students will not be required to pay back federal student loans and Pell Grants if they withdraw from courses due to the COVID-19 emergency. In addition, students who withdraw will not have this semester counted against their lifetime eligibility for federal financial aid. Students may continue collecting work-study pay, even if they are unable to work due to school and workplace closures. To learn more, go to: studentaid.gov/announcements-events/coronavirus
Other COVID-19 Updates
HOW TO GET TESTED: Iowa is now offering drive through testing for those who qualify after taking an online assessment at www.testiowa.com. The goal of the program is to allow the state to administer 3,000 tests per day at the various drive through locations throughout the state. You can also get tested by calling your primary doctor.
UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS: Another 28,827 Iowans filed initial claims for state unemployment benefits last week, up from the week before. That makes 260,000 new claims filed in the last six weeks, the most since the Great Depression. Nationally, another 3.8 million unemployment claims were filed. Go here to file a claim: https://www.iowaworkforcedevelopment.gov/file-claim-unemployment-insurance-benefits.
SMALL BUSINESS HELP: The Iowa Economic Development Authority is continuously updating their website for small business owners, www.iowabusinessrecovery.com. The Iowa Economic Development Authority has given out more grants to small businesses and will continue to give out grants as funds become available. Businesses that received grants can be found here, https://www.iowaeconomicdevelopment.com/aspx/general/dynamicpage.aspx?id=205. Due to Congressional action small businesses can again apply for relief through the Small Business Administration. More information on the programs can be found here, https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options
VOTE FROM HOME: With the outbreak of COVID-19, the Iowa Secretary of State is encouraging Iowans to vote from home for the primary election coming up in June. All registered voters were mailed an absentee ballot request form in the mail this week. The form must be mailed in by May 22nd to vote from home. If you didn’t get the request form, you can print one out here (https://bit.ly/2VJIzYu). Click here to find out if you are registered to vote, https://bit.ly/2KJnNlu
STUDENT LUNCH LOCATIONS: The USDA’s Summer Food Service Program has 303 approved Grab and Go meal sites in Iowa to provide meals and snacks to children who might go without while schools are closed due to COVID-19. To find a location in your community go to: https://www.fns.usda.gov/meals4kids